Reimagining Church

Thriving Congregations Initiative: New Models for the 21st Century

Hope in the Midst of Dissonance

Natalie Benson

I was raised in a tight-knit, Lutheran congregation in central Illinois. This congregation taught me about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the one who calls us into a life of love and service. My church community believed in me and cheered me on as I grew from a shy kid in Sunday school, to a middle-schooler in confirmation class who always had questions, to an aspiring minister.

But as I got older, I started to experience the dissonance that I hear so many other “church people” describe: the dissonance between the loving God I learned about at church and the God who’s name was used to harm people.
How could the same church that embraced me and encouraged my call to ministry, treat our own neighbors like they didn’t belong?
How could the same Bible passages that taught me I was a beloved child of God, be used to tell others that they were inherently unlovable?

This dissonance still gets me tangled in doubts, pain, fear, and anger. But no matter how tangled up I get, I am struck again and again by Jesus’ call to the crowd - “come and follow me.” I’m caught up in this question: “what does it mean to follow Jesus - Jesus of Nazareth, of the poor, of the oppressed, of the outsider?”

After a year that made the epidemics of loneliness, division, and injustice we face impossible to ignore, it’s clear now more than ever that we must be a community of followers of Jesus of Nazareth. We must be a place where we listen deeply, tell the truth boldly, and care for ourselves and our neighbors abundantly. We must boldly imagine a future where all creatures are treated as beloved.

We must be Church.

I’ve been journeying with the working group of Simsbury United Methodist Church (SUM) for just about a month. In getting to know this community, I’m finding that I’m not alone in the frustration and dissonance I feel when I see the Church struggle and fail to follow Jesus’ Gospel call in our hurting world.

But, I’m also finding that I’m not alone in my hope that the Church can do better. It’s this loving honesty and disciplined hope that makes the process of “Re-imagining Church” with this community a beautiful challenge and a true joy.

This working group and the SUM community understands these next nine months as a part of their ongoing commitment to re-imagine what it means to “be church” in our changing world. Difficult conversations about their values in the midst of denominational and national divisions, demands to adapt in the face of the pandemic, and investigating the trends of young people leaving church behind, are not new to this community.

This working group contains so many gifts that the future of our Church deserves - from storytelling, to graphic design and arts, to business methods and data analysis. None of us know exactly where this process will lead us, but I have no doubt that the fruit of this community’s passion and skill will, in small and big ways, ignite our hope in Jesus’ Gospel call to the Church.